Letter From Home: “Lessons From A Sunflower” 8/31/21

Last winter when the pandemic was racing across the nation I considered ideas that would alter the landscape of our gardens come summer. One way I coped with the sadness of news from hospitals and the ever-increasing number of people we lost to the virus was opening up seed catalogs and planning. Planning big!

Or in the case of my hopes with sunflowers, planning tall.

I love sunflowers, the brighter the yellow, the larger the bloom, the bigger the smile on my face.

When we first moved into our home I planted a long row of sunflower seeds alongside my neighbor’s garage, which abuts our property. The place was perfect with ample sunshine. They anchored themselves to the soil so securely that come fall there was no way to pull them out. Digging their roots out was the only way to remove them.

The glorious tall heads had a variety of birds darting about, with the goldfinches being my favorite as they pecked away while perched upside down. Blue jays were a part of my childhood, but the only time I have had a number of them in our yard was when the sunflowers seeds were ready to be plucked. Some say they are mean birds, but their grand color always gives them a pass in my book.

So with three large packets of a variety of seeds purchased via the mail, I awaited spring.

What I had not factored into my winter-time plotting was the growth of the nine trees we have planted since moving in 2007. One of them came to us our first spring, placed in a large bucket and carted in a wheelbarrow. The man lived a few houses down on our block.

“Welcome to the neighborhood!

That sugar maple was shorter than I was, but now it towers higher than our three-story home. That along with a red pine, spruce, two Pagoda Dogwoods, Pin Oak, Honey Locust, a crab apple tree, and a lilac bush pruned to look more like a tree means that when it came for staking out places with lots of sunshine…..well, I need more space!

So back to the now limited area where my memories of past sunflowers were raised. Alongside the neighbor’s garage.

I planted and watered and remarked to James each day the progress of their germination.

At this point, I should mention my soft-hearted nature when it comes to wild animals. Each winter I put out food for the bunnies. James even felt they needed a better place to stay so fashioned a large rose cone into a bunny home with a straw ground cover. I bought high-fat nuts and even a cheap metal baking pan so as to not just toss their meals into the snow.

I thought of all those little niceties we did over the winter each morning as I soon noticed the sunflower’s fresh green growth had been munched completely off! What to do?

I brought up some of the fencings we use for winter protection of plants and soon had the next freshly planted seeds–thankfully I had ordered large packets–protected from anything that could go wrong.

Right?

Wrong.

In our Catalpa tree this year we had a large squirrel nest with cute little tykes running about. The tree is not far from the sunflowers, or more to the point of this story, from the roof of the neighbor’s garage.

So as my seedlings now truly did grow and reach high up above my head with growth…

…the new squirrels would launch themselves off the roof and land on the top portion of a sunflower, their weight snapping the plant down and thus ending the hope of a bloom. The one pictured was soon taken down by a squirrel. None of those large plants in the back of the house would blossom this year.

BUT, there was a sunflower at our home that did bloom–numerous times in fact– and truly makes for a point about life.

On the front lawn is where we have some of our Adirondack chairs. During street updating several years ago the city constructed a stone wall at the edge of our property that at the corner point is 18 inches tall. It was at that spot in the landscaped portion of a flower bed that one of the animals dropped a sunflower seed. Perhaps it was one from the winter bird feeding, or perhaps one that was dug up on the backside of the house this spring.

The plant took off with ever-increasing growth. Higher, stronger, and then I noticed it was a variety with multiple blooms. Sitting on the lawn and looking straight ahead constantly places this wonder in view.

All my planning and work to create a garden plot had come to naught. But Mother Nature with ease and grace planted a seed, did not require a daily update, and placed it near thorny bushes that little animals are not very fond of.

The lesson from that sunflower is two-fold.

First, perhaps in life, we overthink things.

Second, life continues to be at its best with simple unexpected events.

And so it goes.

Bit Of Washington D.C. On Madison Isthmus

There were several very special things we brought back from our spring trip to Washington, D.C four years ago. One of them bloomed this morning.

At the Iwo Jima Memorial, two workers were taking apart a flower bed that had hundreds of tulip blooms just weeks before. The pile of bulbs was quite large and after we passed them I turned and went back with a question for one of the workers.

“What are you going to do with those bulbs?”

“Not really sure,” was his reply.

“Might I have one?” I inquired.

“Take as many as you want,” he added with a gesture of his hand over the pile in front of him.

My Midwestern sensibilities did not allow me to place handfuls into my shoulder bag as I had space–but I did take two and they are planted in a special place on our lawn.

Southern Night-Blooming Cereus, Remarkable Account Of Great Migration By Isabel Wilkerson

I came across a story in the chapter of The Warmth Of Other Suns that dealt with memories and attachments that Black Americans recalled after the decades following the Great Migration. Going hundreds of miles (or more) and not again having certain connections with people or aspects of their younger years was the price to be paid for the chance at a better life. To flee the Jim Crow south. Isabel Wilkerson wrote an essential slice of our national story that allows for insightful revelations too few care to understand. Brillant does not come close to defining this book.

On the page I have selected for this post comes the story of the author’s relatives and the night-blooming Cereus.

This post would not be complete, of course, without a photo of the flower bloom of the Cereus.

Photos To Bring Smiles As We Head To Long Weekend

Everything is blooming so nicely and scented so that when the breezes pass along the fragrance is carried to the neighbors.   The lawn had its third mowing this morning, and after trimming and blowing the sidewalk and driveway free of grass clippings I poured a hot cup of coffee and sat for a while.

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This crab-apple tree is planted for the memory of James’ mom.  This year the blooms are the heaviest yet for this tree…..and the bumblebees today were busy! Marion would have loved this—better yet she would thrill to the jelly made from the fruit this fall.

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I love this time of year, and this season the color and new growth has been a true tonic for the soul.

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Antidote To The Headlines Found On Madison Isthmus

Years back I used to post on this blog pictures of flowers and butterflies from our lawn.  Most of that type of item now is found on my Facebook page or Twitter account.  But this afternoon I was walking from the driveway and the following photo is the sight that just made me stop.  And look.

This is what I plan and scope out when the winter winds cross over frozen Lake Monona and the snow piles up on the front stoop.  And this is what makes life bouncy, day after day, as the warm breezes of summer remind us what really matters.

This blog is mostly an Op-Ed page akin to what one finds in the daily newspaper.  The headlines of the day make for analysis and comment. But it does all of us good to know that headlines, more now than ever, need an antidote.  I have found mine.  Go for a walk tonight and find yours, too.

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Monarch Butterflies Take Over Our Yard

Today there was no way to not just sit and look at what was happening on the flowers in the yard.  What is seen in these photos is but an example of what is taking place here.  Folks have stopped their walk to gaze and I am simply filled with joy knowing some of our plantings and then the watering throughout the season has produced such an outpouring of attention from the monarchs.    There are five butterflies in the second photo!  I think my readers will be able to find them.  The first photo was just one of those perfectly timed pics.     We all need to make a concerted effort to plant blooms that will attract these butterflies and assist them at this time of hardship.

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The Power Of A Small Child

This might be one reason James and I have no children.

We are at the Farmers’ Market at the Capitol Square and this very sweet little girl asks those passing by “Please buy some of my flowers.”

We take about four more steps away from her soft voice and I turn and walk back. “Which one do you want?” she asks.

“Any bouquet with some yellow blooms,” I say.  She picks out one and wraps the ends in a plastic bag.

Truth is had she wanted to sell me the whole lot that was left I would be out buying flower vases right now.

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Best Reasons To Smile Are Free

From time to time someone will ask why I am usually a very content person and upbeat about life.  I am not sure how to respond except to say I am an optimist by nature and think I have figured out some of the big questions as they relate to my life.  I have things prioritized.

One of the things I know for sure is that the little things in life are the best.  That fact came to mind today as I walked around our home and noted all the reasons to smile.  Home is where I love to be and where I feel most peaceful.  It is where I plot during the winter months about plants and then putter my way to blooms in the warm season.  On days like this I know James and I  are rich in the real sense of the word.

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